What will the internet of things (Io T) look like, really? How will it
be when our trash cans can talk to our refrigerators in some sort
of meaningful way? Currently, the sector is small—only 5% of U. S.
homes contain connected appliances—but it is projected to grow
by 20% in the next three years. Of course, it might grow faster
if anyone even understood what it was. “A simple image search
for ‘IoT’ leads to a landscape of network schematics with icons
as nodes and a Wi-Fi–esque radio graphic placed somewhere in
the soup,” says Forest Young, head of design at Wolff Olins San
Francisco. “This complexity is, in many ways, the biggest bottleneck [when it comes to] mass adoption and enthusiasm.” What
if, instead, you could give Io T a face? Like this: :||
Meet the new functional logo—and open-source Io T language—Dotdot.
On behalf of the Zigbee Alliance—a consortium of more than 400 universities, agencies, and companies including Amazon, GE, and Huawei—Young
led 12 designers last year to imagine a more approachable Io T. Though it
resembles a cute emoticon, the logo has various capacities, depending on
its audience. “A consumer may see a face,” says Young, and be drawn to it.
A retailer may see a quick, graphic way to lure customers. Manufacturers
will actually build with it. And appliances will use it to talk to each other.
Young explains that the symbol had to be spartan enough to be molded
onto a silicon board to designate Dotdot-compatible circuitry and hardware
on production lines. The image itself can then foster connectivity between
devices. Zigbee engineers developed the underlying Dotdot language that
appliances use to communicate with each other, while consumers will also
theoretically be able to text the logo to a lightbulb to turn it on, and developers could type it into some Github code to test device-to-device interplay.
In this sense, the Dotdot mark becomes not just a bit of branding, but a
functional tool for users and coders alike.
In tackling the assignment, Young and his team researched historic
languages for inspiration, ranging from cuneiform to Esperanto. But they
found their answer in the original lingua franca of electronic communication: Morse code. While fying to Hong Kong to pitch the Zigbee board his
minimalist-looking design, Young was certain that the room of engineers
would appreciate its simplicity and functionality. But, he said, they reacted
like your average consumer, too. “There was a moment the CEO said, ‘It just
sort of looks like a face! And I like it.’ ” —M W
Photograph by Mark Mahaney
WOLFF OLINS AND ZIGBEE ALLIANCE
A LANGUAGE MADE FROM